As readers of this blog know, I’m paid by the word. Or at least, it would seem like it. I have a terrible tendency of saying in many words what could be said in a lot fewer. Which is to say, I’m very verbose and repetitive, generally unintentionally, but that it’s…
Well, you get the point.
Anyways, Stacey, one of Fr. Andrew’s parishoners, is much clearer and quicker to the point than myself. So if you want the Cliff’s Notes version of the interesting debate on the Church Fathers and Creedal Protesantism from the lack coupla days, she’s got a great Q&A over on Brian’s blog:
Brian and Joe,
Interesting conversation. Joe asked Brian a couple times and I’m very interested in Brian’s answer:
[Brian] said to [Larry], “By positing a brand new Christianity that nobody ever knew about until the 70’s, you have invalidated everything Christ did to ensure that His church would be and remain the ‘pillar and ground of the truth.’” … Are you holding everything which the Early Church Fathers preach as orthodoxy, or only those parts which agree with your personal reading of the Bible? And if the latter, how do you distinguish that from the conduct you condemn?
How do you distinguish your own position?
If you say that Rome teaches a gospel contrary to the Bible, then what interpretation of the Bible is this based on, and how do you choose this interpretation of the Bible over the one that Rome uses?
My official position is, that the Bible alone contains the authoritative expression of the Christian faith, but that the Bible must be interpreted in harmony with 2,000 years of Christian teaching. The fact is, the faith contained in the New Testament has always been present throughout the history of the church. What happens, though, is that people often confuse this faith with the accretions and addenda of fallible man. That is why resort must always be had to the Scriptures.
I believe the church fathers spoke truly when they spoke in harmony with the word. The issue at this blog is the contention that nobody in the history of the church knew the basic A-B-C’s of eschatology. But the people making this claim base their belief on the very word that claims the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not a matter of, if everyone isn’t right, everyone must be wrong. That is clearly fallacious.
It is a simple matter of the truths of Christianity being faithfully preserved for 2,000 years. This is not a hard proposition to swallow — unless you’re one who claims that everyone was wrong for 2,000 years.
His conclusion, “unless you’re one who claims that everyone was wrong for 2,000 years,” makes it sound like he’s trying to explain the importance of Tradition to a non-Creedal Evangelical. But Stacey’s Catholic, and so far, seems absolutely right. Agreeing with the Church Fathers as long as they agree with what you think isn’t exactly obedience to Tradition. Larry, while he wouldn’t pride himself on it, agrees with the Church Fathers on all the issues in which they agree with Larry. That’s just the principle of identity (“A = A”).
So saying, “I believe the church fathers spoke truly when they spoke in harmony with the word” suggests that there may be times when the consensus of the Fathers is wrong because it disagrees with the Bible. The Fathers don’t think they’re disagreeing with the Bible, but years later, with our annotated footnotes, we moderns can explain to them what they’re missing. Larry thinks that’s Preterism. Brian thinks that’s Protestantism. So it seems that the sentence really means, “I believe the church fathers spoke truly when they spoke in harmony with my understanding of the word,” which puts us, not the Fathers or Tradition or the Magisterium (or some combo), as the final authority of what the Bible means when there’s a dispute.
But anyways, I’m talking again, and Stacey already addressed it better:
I’m not sure where to comment since this conversation seems to be on many blogs and in many posts :-). But since I repeated Joe’s question here, I’ll ask for clarification here as well. And thanks for answering. I know we’re all busy.
You said: My official position is, that the Bible alone contains the authoritative expression of the Christian faith… I believe the church fathers spoke truly when they spoke in harmony with the word.
I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand. If you think the Church Fathers were right when they were in harmony with the word, what objective standard do you use to determine when they were and when they weren’t in harmony with the word? And if you say you use the Bible itself, how is this any different than what Larry would say?
For example, how do you decide if John 6 was literal or not and so determine if the
Church Fathers were in harmony with the Bible when they taught that it was
I agree that the gospel was not lost for 2000 years such that “everyone was wrong”, but how are you distinguishing who was right and when and where?
In a sense, Larry and I are both starting from the same point. However, my overarching premise is that “God is sovereign.” Therefore, I expect to find the truth running throughout 2,000 years of Christendom. And that is exactly what I do find. For the teachings of the New Testament have always played an important role in the doctrinal instruction of the church. Hence, I conclude that the Bible is to be interpreted in harmony with 2,000 years of Christian teaching.
While he starts with the New Testament, Larry interprets the Scriptures privately, in a manner repugnant to what Christians have always believed. His theology really contains the “hidden premise” that God is not sovereign. Otherwise, why would He allow His church to err for 2,000 years on the basic A-B-C’s of a fundamental doctrine??
The difference between Larry and myself is mainly presuppositional in nature.
Peace & Health,
I thought that this response was fascinating, in that he says that he and Larry are starting at the same point, but with different presuppositions. But most fasincating at all is the claim about sovereignty: if God is in control of the Church, “why would He allow His church to err for 2,000 years on the basic A-B-C’s of a fundamental doctrine??”
But why would He allow His church to err for 1,500 years on the basic A-B-C’s of a fundamental doctrine?
I know, I know, I sound like Abraham in Genesis 18. But seriously. If one accepts the premises that Brian does – that God is in control, and won’t let His Church descend into total apostasy – how could He allow His entire Church to err for 1500 years on fundamental doctrines like the Eucharist, and allow the vast majority (like 75% or more) of the Church to perservere in that error until the present day?
This is a confusion I’ve had for a long time with the seeming contradiction within Creedal Protestantism, so I’m thankful for folks like Brian for having the patience to explain his view, and folks like Stacey, for being able to cut to the case and ask what I’m trying to.